Hi I’m here to talk about the Independence Referendum.
Surprisingly, I rarely start a conversation about the Independence Referendum. Those friends who read my Facebook page might be surprised to hear me say that but its true. I don’t have to. People say to me “What about this referendum then?” Usually just after they have asked me where I stay or how long I have lived here. You see I’m English in case you haven’t guessed – Very definitely English They might be getting less defined every year but See these dulcet Lancashire tones they still identify me as such, 17 years after I moved from Rochdale to Caithness and then to Inverness in 2004.
Every January I top up my accent with a phone call to my friend who lives in Bury, ready for the Lancashire Dialect poem I do every year at our Burns parties. Albert and the Lion, Battle of Hastings, Three ha’pence a foot – I have even been known to read my own scribblings.
I do however LIKE being English, I am proud to be English, a northern lass who’s roots lie in a small Lancashire Mill Town, a comprehensive education and roots which I tend to think account for my “say it as it is” no nonsense approach to things.
And so those people who ask that question “What do you make of this independence referendum then ” are often surprised when I say I am voting YES for an Independent Scotland. “Really?” they ask. Why is that …. And there is the conversation ……we are off.
There are many reasons people are voting Yes and we each have to decide for ourselves what is important to us and which vote best represents our hopes, aspirations and plans for our future and the future of our families.
I know for instance that there are people who would vote for an Independent Scotland come what may – of course I know that. I am married to a man who if David Cameron knocked on our door and said “You can have an Independent Scotland tomorrow but you will have to tip up 99% of your wages for the rest of your life” he would say “Yes please”. My husband believes at a fundamental level that Scotland should be independent regardless of whether we can afford it or not. I don’t
It isn’t party politics which influence me. I’m not a politician, not a member of any political party. I haven’t campaigned about anything since I was a girl and signed up to CND and Rock against racism – I think that probably dates me a bit. Having been a Labour voter all my life, having been a Trade union rep in a previous existence only because no one else volunteered – I have lately voted Green Party and SNP but I would never have really recognised the term “nationalist” as part of my political identity.
I have three English born children and two Scottish born children, the oldest of which is 25 and the youngest of which is 5. They aren’t all at home – thank goodness. I used to joke that my family was a microcosm of Scottish Society – My husband is Scottish, I’m English, I have one son who was a yes, one who was a most definite no and one who after he had looked up from his phone, would have said “referendum? What referendum?” I say used to because the no voting son is now a yes voting son and the apathetic son phoned me to ask how he arranges a proxy vote cos he is away on the 18th – oh and is voting yes.
I work part time for a charity, I volunteer, I live here, I am making my future here and the future of my children is here, in Scotland. I want it to be the best it can be. So, my decision to vote YES is not a heart based emotional decision like my husbands is – although there is nothing wrong with that – I think it is a pragmatic one.
Fairness and Equality has always been my soapbox issue. One of the lassies I used to work with observed that I keep my soapbox in my handbag to whip out whenever its needed but I am passionate about people – about the need for us to look after the poor, the weak and the vulnerable so that we ALL prosper-So that each and every one of us has the opportunity to reach our potential. I don’t see that happening in the UK today.
I have despaired over the failure of successive UK governments to address poverty, in the last few weeks we saw headlines which highlighted the tragic death of David Clapson who died with no food in his tummy, no electricity no hope. We recently had a report which showed that 1million people have been plunged into poverty in Scotland, nearly a quarter of a million of them are children.
I have hung my head in shame at the welfare reforms and the anguish they have caused. Maybe some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking “Here we go” but I’m no bleeding heart. I spent twenty years working in Benefits, front line in an old UBO,Restart Interviewer, Claimant Adviser, New Deal, Manager – and I know that there ARE people who are not looking for work and who need their money stopping. I also know that people who are truly the skivers and scroungers of the popular press are few and far between. I know that because I have sat across the desk from them and stopped their money, and been right to do so.I remember them, their faces and sometimes their names and I can do that because they were few and far between. There is no way that all these people who’s benefit is being sanctioned are all “shirkers” or “skivers”. Absolutely no way.
We know that almost 60% of appeals against sanctions lead to them being overturned. That’s ok, you might think – its all put right in the end but often those people have been waiting weeks and months for appeal outcomes. 4 weeks for a first sanction and more and more for future sanctions. All that time they are left without money – without money for food, transport, for heating in 21st Century Britain.
I have been angry and sworn in disbelief at the number of people who have to rely on food banks. I have been moved to tears by their stories. Stories of people needing food that can be prepared with a kettle because they cant afford the electricity to use their oven. Maryhill foodbank tells of a woman – a mother – so hungry she opened a tin of beans and ate it right there with her fingers in the foodbank. I watched Dennis Curran, Chairperson of Loaves and fishes – a charity which runs Food banks in East Kilbride tell of people who are at the end of their tether, broken and humiliated.
Disabled people left without carers, without benefits which they need to enable them to get out of the house to do normal every day things that you and I take for granted. Their carers isolated, struggling and on one of the lowest benefits there is for doing one of the hardest jobs there is – caring for someone you love who is sick or disabled. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – fighting for respite, for someone just to LISTEN to them.
Now I can look around and see many people that I know and in fact myself – there are many of us that are doing ok. ,If we are doing ok now – if we are doing better than ok or even doing very nicely thank you then we will continue to do so after independence. Scotland is still going to be a good place to do business, to work, to invest – there is no indication that investors are shying away from Scotland. Glasgow won an award in the last year for inward investment and is held up as an exemplar for the rest of Europe to follow.
We will still do well, we will still be successful and we will still be ok. But look behind you at those who aren’t. The sick, the poor, the disabled and those needing help to achieve their own success? Are they doing as well? What will their future be like? What will ours be like if we find ourselves ill or out of work? If our children – heaven forbid find themselves reliant on support then what will their future be like? Im 50 – I know I don’t look it right? But I remember as a child seeing old people who’s legs were deformed by rickets – the Guardian reported last week that rickets is back, that we are seeing children with Rickets again. Rickets???? In today’s United Kingdom – one of the richest countries in the world and we have children with Rickets. That is truly shocking.
The bottom line is this referendum is about having the power to do what we want for the future of the people who live here, people like you and me, like those people I have just mentioned who are struggling today, people like our children and our grandchildren living here in Scotland today and tomorrow. The future of our Society.
Over the last seven years I have watched a Scottish Government strive to improve lives for people – free tuition fees, mitigating the effects of welfare reform, ensuring everyone gets free prescriptions. I have seen thousands of people relieved from the worry of the Bedroom tax and young people offered a back to work programme through the Community Jobs Fund which knocks spots off anything the Westminster Government even imagines. As I have seen these things I have come to the conclusion that a vote for an Independent Scotland gives us a greater opportunities to pursue more policies which do not follow those offered by Westminster.
I believe our society desperately needs to be better fairer and more equal. For much of my life I have tried to do things through my work or through volunteering to make a difference to people and I hope – I know – that I have done so on an individual basis. And yet nothing has really got better. In truth, I haven’t made one iota of difference to the big picture. In Scotland today we have massive health inequalities. Even in Inverness the life expectancy of someone living down the ferry is significantly less than someone living in Milton of Leys. Earlier this week Kezia Dugdale pointed out that Scotland already has control over health and education and that it is the Scottish Parliament which has somehow failed to address this issue. She singularly failed to mention that the powers which influence health inequalities and poverty are not the ability to manage our health service or our schools but the power over welfare policy and borrowing and spending. The Bedroom Tax is a key example of that – we didn’t need it, we didn’t want it, and yet we do not have the power to abolish it. We have to find the money to pay it as a country. And we had to ask Westminster for permission to do that – we had to get permission from Westminster to spend our money on our priorities. With independence we can choose for ourselves and decide for ourselves our own priorities.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect a land of milk and honey with children skipping over the hills in kilts without a care in the world. I’m not expecting Brigadoon here. Opportunity is all very well but you need to be able to afford it.
I have, therefore, looked in detail at the economic arguments. I have read articles supporting both sides of the debate, I have looked for the supporting information and I have found myself wading through GERS and OBR forecasts and I even emailed the Governor of the Bank of England, who was kind enough to ensure that someone emailed me back to explain the particular currency issue I was struggling with. I KNOW what the currency options are and whilst I would prefer a stand alone currency from day 1, I understand why the Scottish Government believes a currency union will exist.
The argument that I have heard that Scotland will not be independent if we are in a Currency union doesn’t make any sense to me. Nicola Sturgeon pointed out in the debate the other night that France and Germany share a currency, share a central bank but no one would suggest they are not independent. The best way I can explain it is that my employers decide how much I am paid. My bank says how much my overdraft can be or how much I can borrow – they set the parameters if you like. But neither of them say what I have to spend my money on. Neither of them tell me I HAVE to buy new shoes, or a new laptop or that I cant buy a new dress or have a holiday. It’s a bit the same thing. The Bank of England – which is independent of the Westminster Government by the way has been since 1998 – might set the borrowing rate, might set the interest rates but they wont tell us we have to spend money on trident or HS2 or that we have to implement the bedroom tax – we will choose what we spend our own money on.
I have looked at trident, citizenship, energy policy; I have waded through the defence issues, welfare, immigration; I have familiarised myself with the EU, NATO and the Edinburgh agreement; I have been satisfied that pensions will continue to be paid and will be protected in an Independent Scotland. I have descended into the hell that is twitter and the online debate and finished up feeling like I needed a shower!!! I have become a “referendum geek” if you like. I found Women for Independence and I have become active in encouraging people and particularly women to be engaged with the Independence debate. I’m the “go to girl” for many of my friends and their independence questions – not cos I have all the answers – I don’t but I often know where to look.
After all this I am absolutely convinced that Scotland has the resources, the people, the drive to be a successful independent country with a vibrant, sustainable economy. No one – not David Cameron, not the independent experts rolled out to baffle us all with the finer points of oil forecasts and we have seen a few of those this last few weeks – with Ian Woods warnings that there are only 15 billion barrels of oil left – ONLY? As opposed to the 24 billion that the industry and Ian Wood himself said a few weeks before he changed his mind. I cant believe so much arguing goes on over whether Scotland’s oil resources are MASSIVE or REALLY MASSIVE, over whether oil is worth 1 trillion or 1.5 trillion. We are encouraged to forget that we have food and drink industry, chemical industries, we have tourism, we have creative industries and on and on it goes, we aren’t a one trick oil pony. Nobody is saying Scotland cannot afford to be a successful independent country. Even the Financial Times in a recent series of articles made it clear that Scotland has the resources it needs to be successful and to be successful without oil.
So even after exploring all these issues, after wading through the slime that can be found on twitter, after all that, I believe Scotland absolutely can afford Independence but you know – for me – all these issues are secondary compared to the possibility of a New Scotland.
Today in Scotland we have no opportunity to change our society as part of the UK – none. Not a single one of the main Westminster parties are offering anything different – you can’t put a pin between them they are so alike. The Conservatives say that the cuts will go further and Rachel Reeves has made it clear that if Labour win the General Election in 2015 they will offer more in the way of cuts, will keep the benefit cap which is driving families out of areas where they have lived all their lives, will remove benefits from young people and will continue with austerity, austerity, austerity. There is serious discussion about the need to get rid of the Barnett Formula across all the parties and – despite BT saying that Yes is scaremongering over health – there is absolutely no doubt that Scotland would struggle to maintain spending on our NHS if our Block Grant was cut. Make no mistake about that, Better Together would have us believe that NHS is protected by health being devolved but its like Kezia’s argument about health inequalities I mentioned earlier, its only part of the story. We have a Scottish Government which protects the NHS because they prioritise it, protecting the budget, how do they continue do that when the amount we are given by Westminster for Scotland’s entire budget falls. How do we keep spending the same amount or the extra that we all know it needs when we have less money to start with? The Labour party here in Scotland insist that there is not a privatisation agenda whilst Andy Burnham tells those south of the Border that there is. How do we fight the drive to privatise whole sections of our NHS when our block grant is reduced? With a No vote there are no offers for real powers to be given to Scotland to control the levers we need to drive real change. There are no guarantees for any more powers for the Scottish Government and those that are proposed fall short of offering real economic power.
In practice, only Independence offers us – the voters – the opportunity to take a different road and to change our society. An opportunity to develop a society where we focus on growing our economy and provide real support to people needing to find jobs, where we work to encourage people to stay in Scotland and to get an education through free tuition fees and a strong vibrant economy. A society where we don’t penalise people who are sick or ill, where women are valued and have access to affordable childcare, where we don’t have targets in Jobcentres for stopping benefits whatever way we can; where tax avoidance is not acceptable, where our wonderful NHS isn’t sold off piece by piece to the highest bidder, where private companies don’t make money for their shareholders off the misery of those without work or with disabilities, where trident doesn’t lurk on the Clyde; where the strong and the wealthy support the weak and the poor and where we don’t think food banks are an acceptable part of welfare policy.
There is an argument that by voting for Independence we are abandoning the rest of the UK to the eternal damnation that is a perpetual Conservative Government. It is an argument which I have struggled with to be honest. But you know Independence is an opportunity for the people of Scotland, those of us from every part of the world, who live here and are investing our future in Scotland to work together for something better and to show the rest of the UK that there is another way because when you have tried to speak up, when you have pointed out alternatives, when you have worked your socks off to change attitudes and improve things and the things that matter to you have got worse and continue to do so, then there comes a time to SHOW people how things can be different and I believe that Scotland can do exactly that.
If you look at the debate so far – we have people of every political background and none, people who have never voted or not voted for years, people who queued up yesterday in Glasgow – queued out of the door for their right to make their democratic choice. If even half of these people, disenfranchised, not voting because it never made any difference vote YES and we get an independent Scotland imagine the affect that will have on political engagement in Scotland? People will see their vote makes a difference and I think it will be hard to ignore that. The forecast is that around 80% of the electorate will vote on the 18th – that’s MASSIVE and massively important because it indicates that people are engaging with the debate in a way that we haven’t seen forever.
So for me, there is only one choice. If I believe that society needs to change then I have to vote yes. If I want to continue the political engagement of the people I have been talking about. If I have worked for an opportunity to change things all my life and stand at that ballot box and vote No – what does that say? That I had the chance and I didn’t take it? That when the best opportunity to change our society was staring me in the face I did not have the courage of my convictions?
That change won’t happen overnight, it may take a long time and a yes vote is just the start – we will have to take small steps and campaign hard, we will make mistakes and we will find things difficult to resolve but it is the best chance we have had in years to fundamentally change things for the benefit of people who live here. There comes a point where you have to accept that you can’t change everything so you have to “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a quote attributed to Ghandi. Only by taking that chance, only by taking the power into the hands of the Scottish Electorate – your hands and mine – Only by voting YES for an Independent Scotland on 18th September 2014, do we have the opportunity to create something better for our children and our grandchildren. That opportunity is enough for me.